We’re Off to See the Wizard – Wizorb Review
This game was reviewed on PlayStation Portable (PlayStation Mini)
At its core, Wizorb is based on one of the simplest games out there, commonly known as Breakout. In Breakout, players are given the task of bouncing a ball off of a paddle at the bottom of the screen, with the objective of breaking an increasing number of bricks located at the top. Originally released in 1976, Breakout has seen a number of attempts to clone its success, with the most popular perhaps being the Brick Breaker game that comes pre-loaded on Blackberry cell phones.
Wizorb, a PS Mini developed by Beatshapers Ltd, is marketed as an attempt to update the formula for modern gamers by including RPG-Lite elements seen in other games such as the Puzzle Quest series. This essentially means that the basis of the game remains unchanged but the players are given a storyline and the chance to level-up their characters as the game progresses. Unfortunately, Wizorb’s RPG elements are near nonexistent, aside from aesthetic details. Whilst the setting would fit most traditional RPGs, with quaint villages, elderly wizards and fiendish monsters, Wizorb doesn’t contain any real RPG mechanics to speak of. There is no ability to level up your player or earn new equipment, and frankly, the character you start off with is exactly the same as the one you end the game with. RPGs are known largely for their character building and sense of progression, and Wizorb contains none of this. Whilst this failing doesn’t necessarily make Wizorb a bad game, especially if you enjoy smashing bricks with a fiendishly mobile ball, it does make for a rather shallow experience.
The title of Wizorb becomes fairly self-explanatory as soon as you start playing the game, due to the fact that you play as a wizard who can transform himself into an orb. This orb is used to break blocks and boxes and open treasure chests. His wand is used as the paddle and is also the source of a number of power-ups, such as fireballs and teleportation, all of which aid you in your quest. The motives behind the wizard’s actions aren’t explained in great detail; but, from what I gathered, a series of towns and locales in the Kingdom of Gorudo have been destroyed by an evil sorcerer, and its populace has been turned into monsters. The story doesn’t really have much else to offer, aside from the fact that you need to rebuild the single town whose inhabitants were left unaffected. This can be done via money gained in the brick-breaking sections, but you’re not really rewarded for your efforts in rebuilding the town.
In terms of gameplay, Wizorb does shake up the brick-breaking formula by including moving monsters, static bricks, and also boss fights to round off each chapter. These boss fights are some of the more inspired and entertaining moments in the game as you fight off werewolves, giant slimes, and enormous eyeballs amongst other things. They are still an extension of the standard gameplay, in that you have to bounce the ball into them to reduce their hit points, but the fact that they can counterattack makes for some frantic action – especially if the preceding levels have left you weaker than you might have liked.
The game also offers a series of collectibles to be gathered from certain blocks and boxes once you have destroyed them, including money, magic refills, and extra lives. These fall slowly from the top of the screen, and you need to work out whether the risk of losing your ball is worth the reward of what the item offers. You can also smash your ball through doors located at the top and sides of the screen; this allows you to either play a quick bonus level for extra coins and lives, or to enter a shop which gives you a chance to purchase power-ups such as a longer paddle or a ball that travels at a slower pace.
Brick-breaking games traditionally settle in the puzzle genre, mainly due to the fact that players have to work out strategies and angles of trajectory in order to succeed. Being able to plan a number of moves in advance allows players to race through a level by destroying a number of bricks in each turn by calculating the exact point where the most destruction can be wrought. Initially, I found this difficult in Wizorb due to the physics enacted by the paddle. Depending on where on the paddle the ball hits, the path that the ball takes upon leaving the paddle will change. As I became more familiar with the physics, I was able to direct the ball around the screen with a degree of accuracy; however, this also highlighted a couple of flaws in the game design which severely hurt the experience of playing Wizorb.
Firstly, the pixel detection in the game appears to be ever so slightly off, which results in the ball bouncing off of surfaces that it should not have hit and missing objects that it almost definitely should have hit. It’s not even as if the ball ‘jumps’ to an object, rather, all evidence on-screen points to the fact that it should miss a certain target, yet it still hits it.
Secondly, while not so crippling but frustrating nonetheless, are the times when the ball will become stuck in a ‘loop’ of bouncing between two points on the screen. Sitting and staring at the screen while waiting for the ball to clear becomes tedious by the end of the game, due both to the frequency of the occurrence and the amount of play time lost each time it happens. On various occasions I was watching the screen for upwards of 30 seconds as the ball bounced between the same two points over and over.
The presentation of Wizorb is also lacking in several places. For a PS Mini, I don’t expect world-beating visuals or an awe-inspiring audio experience; nevertheless, Wizorb reeks of cheapness. Graphically, the game attempts an 8-bit look, but instead of coming off cute and retro like a well-done effort, Wizorb just looks a little ugly. The sounds are worse than the visuals, though, with tinny music and incredibly annoying ‘voices’ forcing me to lower the volume to minimum for most of the duration of play. Perhaps the worst offence offered by Wizorb (and one which shouldn’t have found its way past QA) is that on several of the levels, most notably in Chapter 3, the level indicator is spelt as ‘levek’ as opposed to ‘level’. It’s an embarrassing mistake that doesn’t inspire confidence in the developer’s pride for their product.
As a brick-breaker, Wizorb isn’t a bad game; the varied level design and use of power-ups and collectibles makes for a unique experience. As an RPG, it fails miserably, with barely any RPG elements whatsoever. As a whole, Wizorb lets itself down with poor presentation and a couple of gameplay elements that could yet be fixed with a little fine-tuning. This is a prime example of a concept faring better than the execution, and for something with as much promise as Wizorb, this is disappointing. Beatshapers had the opportunity to create a puzzle game as addictive and engrossing as Puzzle Quest, but unfortunately they dropped the ball.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5
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